Today is Armistice Day, commemorating the end of the First World War. Here in Britain we wear poppies as a sign of respect (and as a way of helping out veterans and their dependants through the Royal British Legion and the Earl Haig Fund Scotland). Well that was the idea.
Sadly today I looked around and found I was the only person in a rather busy carriage of a westbound District Line train to be wearing one. Even on the way to work, discounting the rather glorious sight of pretty much every girl from a local school wearing one, I was taken aback at the sheer lack of poppies.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not a poppy Nazi. I don't expect people to wear poppies by coercion. I was just shocked that so few had chosen of their own free will to wear one.
Then at work the subject was brought up by my only other poppy wearing colleague. We hoped the company would observe the 2 minute silence at 11a.m. We were pleased to hear that the silence would be started and finished by the sounding of fire alarm, but confused when we were told "If people don't feel comfortable with observing the silence they don't have to". Confused I wondered who might not feel comfortable with it, to find several people wouldn't but they didn't offer an explanation (and I didn't pry, again I'm not the Remembrance police).
When the time came just three of us in an office of 30 observed the two minutes silence as all around us others chatted, dealt with tenants and phoned colleagues in other departments.
I don't really know what to make of it. You can't force people to do things they don't want to do. But... but part of me feels sickened by the total lack of respect for those who lost their lives in the war (and all the rest of the wars too). I can't help it. It feels wrong to feel so strongly on something like this, as I do tend to dislike overt patriotism and strongly held beliefs in general but there's something inside me that recoils at this insult to the memory of our ancestors.
However, part of me knows the reason isn't disrespect. It's ignorance. Most of the people I work with, perhaps most of the people in this country, couldn't tell you much about the First World War except perhaps it involved the British and the Germans and trenches. It's as foreign to them as is the War of the Pacific or the Anglo-Afghan Wars.
Which scares me somewhat given that the First World War was caused mainly by a general ignorance of what it would involve. That ignorance infected every echelon of society and lead to deaths of millions. Let's hope we don't forget our past totally and blunder into yet another bloodbath.
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